Marin Cilic has never had much luck in the desert. Despite his professed love for all things hard court, in his first eight appearances at the BNP Paribas Open, he won just six matches. But in 2016, the power server finally began to gain some traction. The Croat defeated Ryan Harrison, Leonardo Mayer and compatriot Richard Gasquet en route to the quarterfinals, where he finally succumbed to Belgian David Goffin.
And he returns to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2017 with ample momentum, coming off quarterfinal and semifinal showings in Rotterdam and Acapulco, respectively.
"It's the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year, so it's quite motivating and quite challenging as well," he said. "I want to start with some good tennis and try to use this big tournament as one more step forward."
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Cilic, who claimed his lone Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2014 (def. Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3), has historically played his best tennis on fast courts in places like Flushing Meadows and Cincinnati, but he’s still trying to find some consistency in his game in Indian Wells.
"In the first part of my career coming here I would always have difficulty," he said. "I would often practice during the day and then end up playing at night in different conditions. The last couple of years I’ve adjusted a little bit better. I'm feeling the courts better. It's sometimes quite tough here. It indeed gets cold in the evening, so it's not easy to adjust. But compared to Cincinnati, the US Open, the courts are a little bit slower, yet the ball flies through the desert air a little bit faster. Overall, conditions are a little slower than usual and the ball bounces a little bit higher."
The fact the Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro all landed in the bottom quarter of the draw, aka the Group of Death, has Cilic breathing a bit easier.
"The bottom quarter is obviously extremely tough," said Cilic, who parted ways with Goran Ivanisevic last year and is now being coached by Jonas Bjorkman. "My section is still very tough, but I’m feeling that I can go through it. I’m in a quarter with Nishikori, who I’ve had good success against, so things are looking well for me. If I'm going to be coming up to those later stages of the tournament against that section, it’s going to be fine. It would be much more difficult to meet those guys in earlier rounds."